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John Dewey 


The R. W.B.Jackson 
I Library 





V / " 


AUG 9 1356 





John Dewey 



The University of Toronto Press, Toronto 5, Canada 

Copyright 1902 by The University of Chicago. All rights 

reserved. Published 1902. Twenty-eighth Impression 1966 

Printed in the United States of America 



The Child and the Curriculum 

Profound differences in theory are never gratuitous or invented. 
They grow out of conflicting elements in a genuine problem a 
problem which is genuine just because the elements, taken as 
they stand, are conflicting.jAny significant problem involves con 
ditions that for the moment contradict each other. Solution 
comes only by getting away from the meaning of terms that is 
already fixed upon and coming to see the conditions from an- 

The Child and the Curriculum 

other point of view, and hence in a fresh light. But this recon 
struction means travail of thought. Easier than thinking with sur 
render of already formed ideas and detachment from facts already 
learned is just to stick by what is already said, looking about for 
something with which to buttress it against attack. 

Thus sects arise: schools of opinion. Each selects that set of 
conditions that appeals to it; and then erects them into a com 
plete and independent truth, instead of treating them as a factor 
in a problem, needing adjustment. 

The fundamental factors in the educative process are an im 
mature, undeveloped being; and certain social aims, meanings, 
values incarnate in the matured experience of the adult. The 
educative process is the due interaction of these forces. Such a 
conception of each in relation to the other as facilitates com- 
pletest and freest interaction is the essence of educational theory. 
> But here comes the effort of thought. It is easier to see the 
conditions in their separateness, to insist upon one at the expense 
of the other, to make antagonists of them, than to discover a 
reality to which each belongs. The easy thing is to seize upon 
something in the nature of the child, or upon something in the 
developed consciousness of the adult, and insist upon that as the 
key to the whole problem. When this happens a really serious 
practical problem that of interaction is transformed into an 
unreal, and hence insoluble, theoretic problem. Instead of seeing 

The Child and the Curriculum 

the educative steadily and as a whole, we see conflicting terms. 
We get the case of the child vs. the curriculum; of the individual 
nature vs. social culture. Below all other divisions in pedagogic 
opinion lies this opposition. 

The child lives in a somewhat narrow world of personal con 
tacts. Things hardly come within his experience unless they 
touch, intimately and obviously, his own well-being, or that of 
his family and friends. His world is a world of persons with their 
personal interests, rather than a realm of facts and laws. Not 
truth, in the sense of conformity to external fact, but affection and 
sympathy, is its keynote. As against this, the course of study met 
in the school presents material stretching back indefinitely in 
time, and extending outward indefinitely into space. The child is 
taken out of his familiar physical environment, hardly more than 
a square mile or so in area, into the wide world yes, and even to 
the bounds of the solar system. His little span of personal 
memory and tradition is overlaid with the long centuries of the 
history of all peoples. 

Again, the child's life is an integral, a total one. He passes 
quickly and readily from one topic to another, as from one spot 
to another, but is not conscious of transition or break. There is 
no conscious isolation, hardly conscious distinction. The things 
that occupy him are held together by the unity of the personal 
and social interests which his life carries along. Whatever is 


The Child and the Curriculum 

uppermost in his mind constitutes to him, for the time being, the 
whole universe. That universe is fluid and fluent; its contents 
dissolve and re-form with amazing rapidity. But, after all, it is the 
child's own world. It has the unity and completeness of his own 
life. He goes to school, and various studies divide and fractionize 
the world for him. Geography selects, it abstracts and analyzes 
one set of facts, and from one particular point of view. Arith 
metic is another division, grammar another department, and so 
on indefinitely. 

Again, in school each of these subjects is classified. Facts are 
torn away from their original place in experience and rearranged 
with reference to some general principle. Classification is not a 
matter of child experience; things do not come to the individual 
pigeonholed. The vital ties of affection, the connecting bonds of 
activity, hold together the variety of his personal experiences. 
The adult mind is so familiar with the notion of logically ordered 
facts that it does not recognize it cannot realize the amount of 
separating and reformulating which the facts of direct experience 
have to undergo before they can appear as a "study," or branch 
of learning. A principle, for the intellect, has had to be distin 
guished and defined; facts have had to be interpreted in relation 
to this principle, not as they are in themselves. They have had to 
be regathered about a new center which is wholly abstract and 
ideal. All this means a development of a special intellectual in- 

The Child and the Curriculum 

terest. It means ability to view facts impartially and objectively; 
that is, without reference to their place and meaning in one's 
own experience. It means capacity to analyze and to synthe 
size. It means highly matured intellectual habits and the com 
mand of a definite technique and apparatus of scientific inquiry. 
The studies as classified are the product, in a word, of the science 
of the ages, not of the experience of the child. 

These apparent deviations and differences between child and 
curriculum might be almost indefinitely widened. But we have 
here sufficiently fundamental divergences: first, the narrow but > 
personal world of the child against the impersonal but infinitely 
extended world of space and time; second, the unity, the single 
wholeheartedness of the child's life, and the specializations and 
divisions of the curriculum; third, an abstract principle of logical 
classification and arrangement, and the practical and emotional 
bonds of child life. 

From these elements of conflict grow up different educational 
sects. One school fixes its attention upon the importance of the 
subject-matter of the curriculum as compared with the contents 
of the child's own experience. It is as if they said: Is life petty, 
narrow, and crude? Then studies reveal the great, wide universe 
with all its fulness and complexity of meaning. Is the life of the 
child egoistic, self-centered, impulsive? Then in these studies is 
found an objective universe of truth, law, and order. Is his ex- 

The Child and the Curriculum 

perience confused, vague, uncertain, at the mercy of the mo 
ment's caprice and circumstance? Then studies introduce a world 
arranged on the basis of eternal and general truth; a world where 
all is measured and defined. Hence the moral: ignore and mini 
mize the child's individual peculiarities, whims, and experiences. 
They are what we need to get away from. They are to be obscured 
or eliminated. As educators our work is precisely to substitute for 
these superficial and casual affairs stable and well-ordered realities; 
and these are found in studies and lessons. 

Subdivide each topic into studies; each study into lessons; each 
lesson into specific facts and formulae. Let the child proceed step 
by step to master each one of these separate parts, and at last he 
will have covered the entire ground. The road which looks so 
long when viewed in its entirety is easily traveled, considered as 
a series of particular steps. Thus emphasis is put upon the logical 
subdivisions and consecutions of the subject-matter. Problems of 
instruction are problems of procuring texts giving logical parts 
and sequences, and of presenting these portions in class in a simi 
lar definite and graded way. Subject-matter furnishes the end, 
and it determines method. The child is simply the immature be 
ing who is to be matured; he is the superficial being who is to be 
deepened; his is narrow experience which is to be widened. It is 
his to receive, to accept. His part is fulfilled when he is ductile 
and docile. 


The Child and the Curriculum 

J I Not so, says the other sect. The child is the starting-point, the 
* center, and the end. His development, his growth, is the ideal. It 
alone furnishes the standard. To the growth of the child all stud 
ies are subservient; they are instruments valued as they serve the 
needs of growth. Personality, character, is more than subject- 
matter. Not knowledge or information, but self-realization, is the 
goal. To possess all the world of knowledge and lose one's own 
self is as awful a fate in education as in religion. Moreover, sub 
ject-matter never can be got into the child from without. ^Learn 
ing is active. It involves reaching out of the mind. It involves 
organic assimilation starting from within. Literally, we must take 
our stand with the child and our departure from him. It is he 
and not the subject-matter which determines both quality and 
quantity of learning. 

The only significant method is the method of the mind as it 
reaches out and assimilates. Subject-matter is but spiritual' food, 
possible nutritive material. It cannot digest itself; it cannot of its 

own accord turn into bone and muscle and blood. The source of 


whatever is dead, mechanical, and formal in schools is found pre 
cisely in the subordination of the life and experience of the child 
to the curriculum. It is because of this that "study" has become 
a synonym for what is irksome, and a lesson identical with a taski. 
This fundamental opposition of child and curriculum set up 
by these two modes of doctrine can be duplicated in a series of 

The Child and the Curriculum 

other terms. "Discipline*' is the watchword of those who mag 
nify the course of study; "interest" that of those who blazon 
"The Child" upon their banner. The standpoint of the former is 
logical; that of the latter psychological. The first emphasizes the 
necessity of adequate training and scholarship on the part of the 
teacher; the latter that of need of sympathy with the child, and 
knowledge of his natural instincts. "Guidance and control" are 
the catchwords of one school; "freedom and initiative" of the 
other. Law is asserted here; spontaneity proclaimed there. The 
old, the conservation of what has been achieved in the pain and 
toil of the ages, is dear to the one; the new, change, progress, wins 
the affection of the other. Inertness and routine, chaos and an 
archism, are accusations bandied back and forth. Neglect of the 
sacred authority of duty is charged by one side, only to be met by 
counter-charges of suppression of individuality through tyranni 
cal despotism. 

Such oppositions are rarely carried to their logical conclusion. 
Common-sense recoils at the extreme character of these results. 
They are left to theorists, while common-sense vibrates back and 
forward in a maze of inconsistent compromise. The need of get 
ting theory and practical common-sense into closer connection 
suggests a return to our original thesis: that we have here condi 
tions which are necessarily related to each other in the educative 
process, since this is precisely one of interaction and adjustment. 


The Child and the Curriculum 

What, then, is the problem? It is just to get rid of the preju 
dicial notion that there is some gap in kind (as distinct from 
degree) between the child's experience and the various forms of 
subject-matter that make up the course of study. From the side 
of the child, it is a question of seeing how his experience already 
contains within itself elements facts and truths of just the same 
sort as those entering into the formulated study; and, what is of 
more importance, of how it contains within itself the attitudes, 
the motives, and the interests which have operated in developing 
and organizing the subject-matter to the plane which it now oc 
cupies. From the side of the studies, it is a question of interpret 
ing them as outgrowths of forces operating in the child's life, and 
of discovering the steps that intervene between the child's pres 
ent experience and their richer maturity. ^ 

Abandon the notion of subject-matter as something fixed and 
ready-made in itself, outside the child's experience; cease think 
ing of the child's experience as also something hard and fast; see 
it as something fluent, embryonic, vital; and we realize that the 
child and the_oirriculum_are simply two limits which define a 
single process. Just as two points define a straight line, so the 
present standpoint of the child and the facts and truths of stud 
ies define instruction. It is continuous reconstruction, moving/ 
from the child's present experience out into that represented by 
the organized bodies of truth that we call studies. 


The Child and the Curriculum 

On the face of it, the various studies, arithmetic, geography, 
language, botany, etc., are themselves experience they are that 
of the race. They embody the cumulative outcome of the efforts, 
the strivings, and the successes of the human race generation after 
generation. They present this, not as a mere accumulation, not as 
a miscellaneous heap of separate bits of experience, but in some 
organized and systematized way that is, as reflectively formu 

Hence, the facts and truths that enter into the child's present 
experience, and those contained in the subject-matter of studies, 
are the initial and final terms of one reality. To oppose one to the 
other is to oppose the infancy and maturity of the same growing 
life; it is to set the moving tendency and the final result of the 
same process over against each other; it is to hold that the nature 
and the destiny of the child war with each other. 

If such be the case, the problem of the relation of the child 
and the curriculum presents itself in this guise: Of _ what use, ed 
ucationally speaking, is it to be able to see the end in the begin 
ning? How does it assist us in dealing with the early stages of 
growth to be able to anticipate its later phases? The studies, as 
we have agreed, represent the possibilities of development inher 
ent in the child's immediate crude experience. But, after all, they 
are not parts of that present and immediate life. Why, then, or 
how, make account of them? 


The Child and the Curriculum 

Asking such a question suggests its own answer. To see the 
outcome is to know in what direction the present experience is 
moving, provided it move normally and soundly. The far-away 
point, which is of no significance to us simply as far away, be 
comes of huge importance the moment we take it as defining a 
present direction of movement. Taken in this way it is no remote 
and distant result to be achieved, but a guiding method in deal 
ing with the present. The systematized and defined experience of 
the adult mind, in other words, is of value to us in interpreting 
the child's life as it immediately shows itself, and in passing on 
to guidance or direction. 

Let us look for a moment at these two ideas: interpretation 
and guidance. The childXpresent experience is in no way self- 
explanatory. It is not final, but transitional. It is nothing com 
plete in itself, but just a sign or index of certain growth-tenden 
cies. As long as we confine our gaze to what the child here and 
now puts forth, we are confused and misled. We cannot read its 
meaning. Extreme depreciations of the child morally and intel 
lectually, and sentimental idealizations of him, have their root in 
a common fallacy. Both spring from taking stages of a growth or 
movement as something cut off and fixed. The first fails to see 
the promise contained in feelings and deeds which, taken by 
themselves, are uncompromising and repellent; the second fails to 
see that even the most pleasing and beautiful exhibitions are but 


The Child and the Curriculum 

signs, and that they begin to spoil and rot the moment they are 
treated as achievements. 

What we need is something which will enable us to interpret, 
to appraise, the elements in the child's present puttings forth and 
fallings away, his exhibitions of power and weakness, in the light 
of some larger growth-process in which they have their place. 
Only in this way can we discriminate. If we isolate the child's 
present inclinations, purposes, and experiences from the place 
they occupy and the part they have to perform in a developing 
experience, all stand upon the same level; all alike are equally 
good and equally bad. But in the movement of life different ele 
ments stand upon different planes of value. Some of the child's 
deeds are symptoms of a waning tendency; they are survivals in 
functioning of an organ which has done its part and is passing 
out of vital use. To give positive attention to such qualities is to 
arrest development upon a lower level. It is systematically to 
maintain a rudimentary phase of growth. Other activities are 
signs of a culminating power and interest; to them applies the 
maxim of striking while the iron is hot. As regards them, it is 
perhaps a matter of now or never. Selected, utilized, emphasized, 
they may mark a turning-point for good in the child's whole ca 
reer; neglected, an opportunity goes, never to be recalled. Other 
acts and feelings are prophetic; they represent the dawning of 
flickering light that will shine steadily only in the far future. As 


The Child and the Curriculum 

regards them there is little at present to do but give them fair and 
full chance, waiting for the future for definite direction. 

Just as, upon the whole, it was the weakness of the "old educa 
tion" that it made invidious comparisons between the immatu 
rity of the child and the maturity of the adult, regarding the for 
mer as something to be got away from as soon as possible and as 
much as possible; so it is the danger of the "new education" that 
it regard the child's present powers and interests as something 
finally significant in themselves. In truth, his learnings and 
achievements are fluid and moving. They change from day to day 
and from hour to hour. 

It will do harm if child-study leave in the popular mind the 
impression that a child of a given age has a positive equipment 
of purposes and interests to be cultivated just as they stand. In 
terests in reality are but attitudes toward possible experiences; ^^ 
they are not achievements; their worth is in the leverage they af 
ford, not in the accomplishment they represent. To take the phe- 
.nomena presented at a given age as in any way self-explanatory 
or self-contained is inevitably to result in indulgence and spoiling, j 
Any power, whether of child or adult, is indulged when it is takea ' 
on its given and present level in consciousness. Its genuine mean- >, 
ing is in the propulsion it affords toward a higher level. It is just 
something to do with. Appealing to the interest upon the present 
plane means excitation; it means playing with a power so as con- 


The Child and the Curriculum 

tinually to stir it up without directing it toward definite achieve 
ment. Continuous initiation, continuous starting of activities that 
do not arrive, is, for all practical purposes, as bad as the continual 
repression of initiative in conformity with supposed interests of 
some more perfect thought or will. It is as if the child were for 
ever tasting and never eating; always having his palate tickled 
upon the emotional side, but never getting the organic satisfac 
tion that comes only with digestion of food and transformation 
of it into working power. 

As against such a view, the subject-matter of science and his 
tory and art serves to reveal the real child to us. We do not know 
the meaning either of his tendencies or of his performances ex 
cepting as we take them as germinating seed, or opening bud, of 
some fruit to be borne. The whole world of visual nature is all too 
small an answer to the problem of the meaning of the child's in 
stinct for light and form. The entire science of physics is none 
too much to interpret adequately to us what is involved in some 
simple demand of the child for explanation of some casual change 
that has attracted his attention. The art of Raphael or of Corot is 
none too much to enable us to value the impulses stirring in the 
child when he draws and daubs. 

So much for the use of the subject-matter in interpretation. Its 
further employment in direction or guidance is but an expansion 
of the same thought. To interpret the fact is to see it in its vital 


The Child and the Curriculum 

movement, to see it in its relation to growth. But to view it as a 
part of a normal growth is to secure the basis for guiding it. Guid 
ance is not external imposition. It is freeing the life-process for its 
own most adequate fulfilment. ^What was said about disregard of 
the child's present experience because of its remoteness from ma 
ture experience; and of the sentimental idealization of the child's 
naive caprices and performances, may be repeated here with 
slightly altered phrase. There are those who see no alternative be 
tween forcing the child from without, or leaving him entirely 
alone. Seeing no alternative, some choose one mode, some an 
other. Both fall into the same fundamental error. Both fail to see 
that development is a definite process, having its own law which 
can be fulfilled only when adequate and normal conditions are 
provided. Really to interpret the child's present crude impulses 
in counting, measuring, and arranging things in rhythmic series 
involves mathematical scholarship a knowledge of the mathe 
matical formulae and relations which have, in the history of the 
race, grown out of just such crude beginnings. To see the whole 
history of development which intervenes between these two terms 
is simply to see what step the child needs to take just here and 
now; to what use he needs to put his blind impulse in order that 
it may get clarity and gain force./ 

If, once more, the "old education" tended to ignore the dy 
namic quality, the developing force inherent in the child's pres- 


The Child and the Curriculum 

ent experience, and therefore to assume that direction and con 
trol were just matters of arbitrarily putting the child in a given 
path and compelling him to walk there, the "new education" is 
in danger of taking the idea of development in altogether too 
/ formal and empty a way. The child is expected to "develop" this 
or that fact or truth out of his own mind. He is told to think 
things out, or work things out for himself, without being supplied 
any of the environing conditions which are requisite to start and 
guide thought. Nothing caji be developed from nothing; nothing 
but the crude can be developed out of the crude and this is what 
surely happens when we throw the child back upon his achieved 
self as a finality, and invite him to spin new truths of nature or of 
conduct out of that. It is certainly as futile to expect a child to 
evolve a universe out of his own mere mind as it is for a philoso 
pher to attempt that task. Development does notmean just get 
ting something out of the mind. It is a development or experience 
and into experience that is really wanted. And this is impossible 
save as just that educative medium is provided which will enable 
the powers and interests that have been selected as valuable to 
function. They must operate, and how they operate will depend 
almost entirely upon the stimuli which surround them and the 
material upon which they exercise themselvesT^The problem of 
direction is thus the problem of selecting appropriate stimuli for 
instincts and impulses which it is desired to employ in the gain- 


The Child and the Curriculum 

ing of new experience. What new experiences are desirable, and 
thus what stimuli are needed, it is impossible to tell except as 
there is some comprehension of the development which is aimed 
at; except, in a word, as the adult knowledge is drawn upon as 
revealing the possible career open to the child, f 

It may be of use to distinguish and to relate to each other the 
/logical and the psychological aspects of experience the former 
standing for subject-matter in itself, the latter for it in relation to 
the child. A psychological statement of experience follows its ac 
tual growth; it is historic; it notes steps actually taken, the un 
certain and tortuous, as well as the efficient and successful. The 
logical point of view, on the other hand, assumes that the devel 
opment has reached a certain positive stage of fulfilment. It neg 
lects the process and considers the outcome. It summarizes and' 
arranges, and thus separates the achieved results from the actual 
steps by which they were forthcoming in the first instance. We 
may compare the difference between the logical and the psycho 
logical to the difference between the notes which an explorer 
makes in a new country, blazing a trail and finding his way along 
as best he may, and the finished map that is constructed after the 
country has been thoroughly explored. The two are mutually de- 
pendent.. Without the more or less accidental and devious paths 
traced by the explorer there would be no facts which could be 
utilized in the making of the complete and related chart. But no 


The Child and the Curriculum 

one would get the benefit of the explorer's trip if it was not com 
pared and checked up with similar wanderings undertaken by 
others; unless the new geographical facts learned, the streams 
crossed, the mountains climbed, etc., were viewed, not as mere 
incidents in the journey of the particular traveler, but (quite 
apart from the individual explorer's life) in relation to other sim 
ilar facts already known. The map orders individual experiences, 
connecting them with one another irrespective of the local and 
temporal circumstances and accidents of their original discovery. 

Of what use is this formulated statement of experience? Of 
what use is the map? 

Well, we may first tell what the map is not. The map is not a 
substitute for a personal experience. The map does not take the 
place of an actual journey. The logically formulated material of a 
science or branch of learning, of a study, is no substitute for the 
having of individual experiences. The mathematical formula for 
a falling body does not take the place of personal contact and 
immediate individual experience with the falling thing. But the 
map, a summary, an arranged and orderly view of previous experi 
ences, serves as a guide to future experience; it gives direction; it 
facilitates control; it economizes effort, preventing useless wan 
dering, and pointing out the paths which lead most quickly and 
most certainly to a desired result. Through the map every new 
traveler may get for his own journey the benefits of the results of 


The Child and the Curriculum 

others' explorations without the waste of energy and loss of time 
involved in their wanderings wanderings which he himself 
would be obliged to repeat were it not for just the assistance of 
the objective and generalized record of their performances. That 
which we call a science or study puts the net product of past ex 
perience in the form which makes it most available for the future. 
It represents a capitalization which may at once be turned to in 
terest. It economizes the workings of the mind in every way. 
Memory is less taxed because the facts are grouped together about 
some common principle, instead of being connected solely with 
the varying incidents of their original discovery. Observation is 
assisted; we know what to look for and where to look. It is the 
difference between looking for a needle in a haystack, and search 
ing for a given paper in a well-arranged cabinet. Reasoning is 
directed, because there is a certain general path or line laid out 
along which ideas naturally march, instead of moving from one 
chance association to another. 

There is, then, nothing final about a logical rendering of ex 
perience. Its value is not contained in itself; its significance is that 
of standpoint, outlook, method. It intervenes between the more 
casual, tentative, and roundabout experiences of the past, and 
more controlled and orderly experiences of the future. It gives 
past experience in that net form which renders it most available 
and most significant, most fecund for future experience. The ab- 


The Child and the Curriculum 

stractions, generalizations, and classifications which it introduces 
all have prospective meaning. 

The formulated result is then not to be opposed to the process 
of growth. The logical is not set over against the psychological. 
The surveyed and arranged result occupies a critical position in 
the process of growth. It marks a turning-point. 4t shows how we 
I may get the benefit of past effort in controlling future endeavor. 
/ In the largest sense the logical standpoint is itself psychological; 
it has its meaning as a point in the development of experience, 
and its justification is in its functioning in the future growth 
which it insures. 

Hence the need of reinstating into experience the subject- 
matter of the studies, or branches of learning. It must be restored 
to the experience from which it has been abstracted. It needs 
to be psychologized; turned over, translated into the immediate 
and individual experiencing within which it has its origin and 

Every study or subject thus has two aspects: one for the scien 
tist as a scientist; the other for the teacher as a teacher. These 
two aspects are in no sense opposed or conflicting. But neither 
are they immediately identical. For the scientist, the subject- 
matter represents simply a given body of truth to be employed 
in locating new problems, instituting new researches, and carry 
ing them through to a verified outcome. To him the subject- 


The Child and the Curriculum 

matter of the science is self-contained. He refers various portions 
of it to each other; he connects new facts with it. He is not, as a 
scientist, called upon to travel outside its particular bounds; if he 
does, it is only to get more facts of the same general sort. The 
problem of the teacher is a different one. As a teacher he is not 
concerned with adding new facts to the science he teaches; in 
propounding new hypotheses or in verifying them. He is con 
cerned with the subject-matter of the science as representing a 
given stage and phase of the development of experience. His 
problem is that of inducing a vital and personal experiencing. 
Hence, what concerns him, as teacher, is the ways in which that 
subject may become a part of experience; what there is in the 
child's present that is usable with reference to it; how such ele 
ments are to be used; how his own knowledge of the subject- 
matter may assist in interpreting the child's needs and doings, 
and determine the medium in which the child should be placed 
in order that his growth may be properly directed. He is con 
cerned, not with the subject-matter as such, but with the subject- 
matter as a related factor in a total and growing experience. Thus 
to see it is to psychologize it. 

It is the failure to keep in mind the double aspect of subject- 
matter which causes the curriculum and child to be set over 
against each other as described in our early pages. The subject- 
matter, just as it is for the scientist, has no direct relationship to 


The Child and the Curriculum 

the child's present experience. It stands outside of it. The danger 
here is not a merely theoretical one. We are practically threatened 
on all sides. Textbook and teacher vie with each other in present 
ing to the child the subject-matter as it stands to the specialist. 
Such modification and revision as it undergoes are a mere elimi 
nation of certain scientific difficulties, and the general reduction 
to a lower intellectual level. The material is not translated into 
life-terms, but is directly offered as a substitute for, or an external 
annex to, the child's present life. 

Three typical evils result: In the first place, the lack of any 
orgamc connection with what the child has already seen and felt 
and loved makes the material purely formal and symbolic. There 
is a sense in which it is impossible to value too highly the formal 
and the symbolic. The genuine form, the real symbol, serve as 
methods in the holding and discovery of truth. They are tools by 
which the individual pushes out most surely and widely into un 
explored areas. They are means by which he brings to bear what 
ever of reality he has succeeded in gaining in past searchings. But 
this happens only when the symbol really symbolizes when it 
stands for and sums up in shorthand actual experiences which the 
individual has already gone through. A symbol which is induced 
from without, which has not been led up to in preliminary activi 
ties, is, as we say, a bare or mere symbol; it is dead and barren. 
Now, any fact, whether of arithmetic, or geography, or grammar, 


The Child and the Curriculum 

which is not led up to and into out of something which has previ 
ously occupied a significant position in the child's life for its own 
sake, is forced into this position. It is not a reality, but just the 
sign of a reality which might be experienced if certain conditions 
were fulfilled. But the abrupt presentation of the fact as some-T 
thing known by others, and requiring only to be studied and ' 
learned by the child, rules out such conditions of fulfilment. It 
condemns the fact to be a hieroglyph: it would mean something 
if one only had the key. The clue being lacking, it remains an 
idle curiosity, to fret and obstruct the mind, a dead weight to 
burden it. 

The second evil in this external presentation is lack of motiya- 
tion. There are not only no facts or truths which have been 
previously felt as such with which to appropriate and assimilate 
the new, but there is no craving, no need, no demand. When the 
subject-matter has been psychologized, that is, viewed as an out 
growth of present tendencies and activities, it is easy to locate in 
the present some obstacle, intellectual, practical, or ethical, which 
can be handled more adequately if the truth in question be 
mastered. This need supplies motive for the learning. An end 
which is the child's own carries him on to possess the means of 
its accomplishmentjfBut when material is directly supplied in the 
form of a lesson to be learned as a lesson, the connecting links of 
need and aim are conspicuous for their absence!^ What we mean 


The Child and the Curriculum 

by the mechanical and dead in instruction is a result of this lack 
of motivation. The organic and vital mean interaction they 
mean play of mental demand and material supply. 

The third evil is that even the most scientific matter, Arranged 
in most logical fashion, loses this quality, when jxresen ted in ex 
ternal, ready-made fashion, by the time it gets to the child. It has 
to undergo some modification in order to shut out some phases 
too hard to grasp, and to reduce some of the attendant difficulties. 
What happens? Those things which are most significant to the 
scientific man, and most valuable in the logic of actual inquiry 
and classification, drop out. The really thought-provoking charac 
ter is obscured, and the organizing function disappears. Or, as we 
commonly say, the child's reasoning powers, the faculty of ab 
straction and generalization, are not adequately developed. So the 
subject-matter is evacuated of its logical value, and, though it is 
what it is only from the logical standpoint, is presented as stuff 
only for "memory." This is the contradiction: the child gets the 
advantage neither of the adult logical formulation, nor of his own 
native competencies of apprehension and response. Hence the 
logic of the child is hampered and mortified, and we are almost 
fortunate if he does not get actual non-science, flat and common 
place residua of what was gaining scientific vitality a generation 
or two ago degenerate reminiscence of what someone else once 
formulated on the basis of the experience that some further per 
son had, once upon a time, experienced. 


The Child and the Curriculum 

The train of evils does not cease. It is all too common for op 
posed erroneous theories to play straight into each other's hands. 
Psychological considerations may be slurred or shoved one side; 
they cannot be crowded out. Put out of the door, they come back 
through the window. Somehow and somewhere motive must be 
appealed to, connection must be established between the mind 
and its material. There is no question of getting along without 
this bond of connection; the only question is whether it be such 
as grows out of the material itself in relation to the mind, or be 
imported and hitched on from some outside source/If the sub 
ject-matter of the lessons be such as to have an appropriate place 
within the expanding consciousness of the child, if it grows out 
of his own past doings, thinkings, and sufferings, and grows into 
application in further achievements and receptivities, then no 
device or trick of method has to be resorted to in order to enlist 
"interest." The psychologized is of interest that is, it is placed in 
the whole of conscious life so that it shares the worth of that life. 
But the externally presented material, conceived and generated 
in standpoints and attitudes remote from the child, and de 
veloped in motives alien to him, has no such place of its own. 
Hence the recourse to adventitious leverage to push it in, to facti 
tious drill to drive it in, to artificial bribe to lure it in. 

Three aspects of this recourse to outside ways for giving the 
subject-matter some psychological meaning may be worth men 
tioning. Familiarity breeds contempt, but it also breeds some- 


The Child and the Curriculum 

thing like affection. We get used to the chains we wear, and we 
miss them when removed. Tis an old story that through custom 
we finally embrace what at first wore a hideous mien. Unpleasant, 
because meaningless, activities may get agreeable if long enough 
persisted in. It is possible for the mind to develop interest in a 
routine or mechanical procedure if conditions are continually 
supplied which demand that mode of operation and preclude any 
other sort. I frequently hear dulling devices and empty exercises 
defended and extolled because "the children take such an 'inter 
est' in them/' Yes, that is the worst of it; the mind, shut out from 
worthy employ and missing the taste of adequate performance, 
comes down to the level of that which is left to it to know and 
do, and perforce takes an interest in a cabined and cramped ex 
perience. To find satisfaction in its own exercise is the normal 
law of mind, and if large and meaningful business for the mind 
be denied, it tries to content itself with the formal movements 
that remain to it and too often succeeds, save in those cases of 
more intense activity which cannot accommodate themselves, 
and that make up the unruly and declasse of our school product. 
An interest in the formal apprehension of symbols and in their 
memorized reproduction becomes in many pupils a substitute for 
the original and vital interest in reality; and all because, the sub 
ject-matter of the course of study being out of relation to the con 
crete mind of the individual, some substitute bond to hold it in 


The Child and the Curriculum 

some kind of working relation to the mind must be discovered 
and elaborated. 

The second substitute for living motivation in the subject- 
matter is that of contrast-effects; the material of the lesson is ren 
dered interesting, if not in itself, at least in contrast with some 
alternative experience. To learn the lesson is more interesting 
than to take a scolding, be held up to general ridicule, stay after 
school, receive degradingly low marks, or fail to be promoted. 
And very much of what goes by the name of "discipline," and 
prides itself upon opposing the doctrines of a soft pedagogy and 
upon upholding the banner of effort and duty, is nothing more 
or less than just this appeal to ''interest" in its obverse aspect 
to fear, to dislike of various kinds of physical, social, and personal 
pain. The subject-matter does not appeal; it cannot appeal; it 
lacks origin and bearing in a growing experience. So the appeal is 
to the thousand and one outside and irrelevant agencies which 
may serve to throw, by sheer rebuff and rebound, the mind back 
upon the material from which it is constantly wandering. 

Human nature being what it is, however, it tends to seek its 
motivation in the agreeable rather than in the disagreeable, in 
direct pleasure rather than in alternative pain. And so has come 
up the modern theory and practice of the "interesting," in the 
false sense of that term. The material is still left; so far as its own 
characteristics are concerned, just material externally selected and 


The Child and the Curriculum 

formulated. It is still just so much geography and arithmetic and 
grammar study; not so much potentiality of child-experience with 
regard to language, earth, and numbered and measured reality. 
Hence the difficulty of bringing the mind to bear upon it; hence 
its repulsiveness; the tendency for attention to wander; for other 
acts and images to crowd in and expel the lesson /The legitimate 
way out is to transform the material; to psychologize it that is, 
once more, to take it and to develop it within the range and 
scope of the child's life. But it is easier and simpler to leave it as 
it is, and then by trick of method to arouse interest, to make it 
interesting; to cover it with sugar-coating; to conceal its barren 
ness by intermediate and unrelated material; and finally, as it 
were, to get the child to swallow and digest the unpalatable mor 
sel while he is enjoying tasting something quite different. But 
alas for the analogy! Mental assimilation is a matter of conscious 
ness; and if the attention has not been playing upon the actual 
material, that has not been apprehended, nor worked into faculty. 
How, then, stands the case of Child vs. Curriculum? What 
shall the verdict be? The radical fallacy in the original pleadings 
with which we set out is the supposition that we have no choice 
save either to leave the child to his own unguided spontaneity or 
to inspire direction upon him from without. Action is response; 
it is adaptation, adjustment. There is no such thing as sheer self- 
activity possible because all activity takes place in a medium, in 


The Child and the Curriculum 

a situation, and with reference to its conditions. But, again, no 
such thing as imposition of truth from without, as insertion of 
truth from without, is possible. All depends upon the activity 
which the mind itself undergoes in responding to what is pre 
sented from without. Now, the value of the formulated wealth of 
knowledge that makes up the course of study is that it may 
enable the educator to determine the environment of the child, 
and thus by indirection to direct. Its primary value, its primary 
indication, is for the teacher, not for the child. It says to the 
teacher: Such and such are the capacities, the fulfilments, in 
truth and beauty and behavior, open to these children. Now see 
to it that day by day the conditions are such that their own 
activities move inevitably in this direction, toward such culmina 
tion of themselves. Let the child's nature fulfil its own destiny, 
revealed to you in whatever of science and art and industry the 
world now holds as its own. 

The case is of Child. It is his present powers which are to 
assert themselves; his present capacities which are to be exercised; 
his present attitudes which are to be realized. But save as the 
teacher knows, knows wisely and thoroughly, the race-expression 
which is embodied in that thing we call the Curriculum, the 
teacher knows neither what the present power, capacity, or atti 
tude is, nor yet how it is to be asserted, exercised, and realized. 


375 D519C 1902 cl 

Dewey / The child and the 

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The child and the curriculum 



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